Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami is a twin narrative of isolation and connection. While on a class trip to the mountains during the second world war, Nakata and his classmates fall into an inexplicable coma-like sleep. Their frantic teacher goes for help and returns to find that all of the students but Nakata have woken up. Weeks go by before Nakata wakes, but when he does he has no memory of what happened before his sleep, he no longer has the ability to read and write, he has lost most of his intelligence and is unable to continue his schooling.

Sixty years pass, and we find Nakata living on a government pension and handouts from his family. He has no friends and very little human contact in his life, but he is able to talk to cats. This ability makes it possible for him to create a small business as a finder of lost cats. While looking for Goma, a neighbor’s cat, he discovers a nefarious plot to steal the souls of cats and put them into a kind of flute. The man behind this plot, Johnny Walker, is a nationally famous artist and the father of Kafka, a fifteen year old boy who believes he is cursed, like Oedipus, to kill his father and sleep with his mother. Kafka runs away, drawn mysteriously to the island of Shikoku where he finds shelter in a private library.

Nakata fills in for Kafka and kills the artist once he discovers the extent of his crimes against the neighborhood cats. He then flees the city, drawn also to Shikoku and the private library, unaware that the library is just beneath the mountainside where decades earlier he fell into the mysterious coma.

This must sound like a very strange story and it is, but it is also very touching. The main characters do meet other people with whom they form connections. Everyone in the book is a lost soul, looking for something to fill an emptiness inside them. For a time they find each other, not all of them together though. I was surprised that the story’s events continually kept everyone from meeting up in the library, which seemed like the logical end. I expected Nakata and Kafka to meet, but they did not. Still, the ending did not disappoint. I will not spoil it any further here except to say that I found the last 100 pages very difficult to put down and the ultimate finish unexpectedly touching.

Strange things happen in a Murakami novel (a boy falls into a coma, a man talks to cats, Colonel Sanders makes an appearance, doors to alternate worlds open) but within this magical/fantasy structure Murakmai gets at the heart of what it means to live in the modern urban world. He understands how so much of our world can make so little sense, how alienating that experience can be, how the randomness of events can lead to an unexpected sense of order, of destiny and what it is like to be compelled by fate towards actions we often cannot explain.

If I sound like I am gushing, I am. I am also giving Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami five out of five stars. It’s a book that leaves the reader thinking about it long after the last page.


I guess I loved this book, but in the six years since I first ran this review on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. I have forgotten it.  It does sound like something I would really like based on this review.  I should really read, or re-read, some Murakami this summer.  I may have though about this one long after the last page, but I sure can’t remember any of it now.  

3 thoughts on “Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

  1. I’m a Murakami fan, yet I’ve still managed to not yet read this book. I have it sitting on my desk next to me, and it’s a priority read for this Summer.

    Your review suggests I will enjoy it, but I tend to love most of HM’s work.

  2. This is one of my favourite books, even though I’ve only read it twice. I’m glad you liked it; I don’t think it’s for everyone. I plan to reread it this year also – but I’m saving it as a ‘comfort read’ for once I move to Japan.

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